Six people who chained themselves to the fence of the federal courthouse in Tucson in an effort to shut down a deportation process known as Operation Streamline for a day face misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and failure to follow the direction of federal police officers.
The group of activists learned of the charges during their first court hearing Wednesday before Magistrate Judge Stephanie Bowman at the courthouse, according to a news release from the group. The crimes carry a maximum fine of $5,000 and up to 30 days in jail and five years’ probation.
Their trial was set for 10 a.m. Feb. 5.
On Oct. 11, about two dozen activists were arrested or detained after they linked themselves together with plastic piping to block the courthouse parking lot and stopped two buses with up to 70 detainees headed to court to be criminally prosecuted for immigration offenses.
It was the first time the program called Operation Streamline was canceled because of an act of civil disobedience since it started in Texas in 2005, organizers said.
No charges have been filed against the other 18 people who chained themselves to the buses. As of Wednesday, they didn’t have a case pending at Pima County Superior Court.
A decision on prosecution had not been made and the case was under review as of Oct. 24. A Pima County Attorney’s Office spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Operation Streamline is a fast-track program created to discourage unauthorized migration by giving prison sentences and a criminal record to those apprehended at the border. Since it started in 2005, it has expanded to most sectors of the border, including Yuma and Tucson.
In Tucson, up to 70 people are processed every day, and most of them are charged with the misdemeanor of illegal entry and the felony of illegal re-entry. They plead down to the lesser charge, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison — all in one day.
“We had to act on October 11,” Rachel Winch, one of the activists involved in protest, said in the release. “We had to keep one more parent from being prosecuted for nothing more than trying to reunite with their family in the U.S., a conviction that will make them ineligible for any future immigration relief or reform.”
On Oct. 25, the activists announced they had set up hot line numbers to locate each of 70 detainees believed to be aboard the blocked buses to record their testimony and bolster their defense, as well as to advance their political campaign against Operation Streamline. So far, they’ve collected more than a dozen stories.
Most of the detainees on the buses stopped in Tucson have since been deported without being criminally prosecuted, officials have said. Up to nine were prosecuted through Operation Streamline days after the protest.